oil on canvas
The theme was prostitution, a wronged woman displaying the child from clothes that closely resemble a womb. The image of the seducer can cleverly be seen in the mirror. The model for the head was Fanny Cornforth. It may not be a coincidence that it was painted the same year as the new divorce law was passed that finally allowed women to sue for divorce, though only on the grounds of desertion or cruelty.
I'm not so sure about the above now (Aug '09). A book I am reading says that the models were his second wife Emma and their 3 month old son. The man in the mirror would then be Brown himself. The theme it is suggested was not prostitution but illegitimacy, or possibly autobiographical. It is painted as if a Madonna and Child.
Notice the position of the signature half way up the painting. Extra paper seems t have been added several times to lengthen it over the years. The material around the baby is very womb-like. The reason for its never being finished is probably that the baby, Arthur, died.
I've found this post by accident when I was trying to find an image of the picture.
I saw it at the WA Art Gallery during a pre Raphaelite exhibition. There wasn't any extra paper that I could see - the marks are sketch marks. The theme was correct, but during the modelling, their son died. Brown was so distressed he never completed the picture.
Thank you for that, I'm sure you're right. I envy you actually seeing it.
I saw it this afternoon at the exhibition here in Torino, Italy, and the audioguide said that it was begun as a portrait of the painter's lover, and her head was originally laughing (so that could explain the incongruence you founf in the sources about the woman's name. It said it was abandoned after the death of the child and that is formed of 7 pieces of canvas.
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